Holidays Coffee Chat: Ho Ho Ho, It's Nearly A New Year!

Oh Hello!  Miss me this week?  I missed you, too, but it was nice to take a bit of a break.  I've been UN-decorating the house, taking down and putting away Christmas things.  And then of course, I wanted to refresh the living/dining room/and entry doors but I ran out of steam before I got done.  When I run out of steam, inspiration seems to die down hard as well.  But do come in, don't mind the messy weather and is your weather being seasonal in the least?  Ours isn't.  Normally it doesn't look like the photo above either but it typically doesn't look like this:

Yep.  It's either quite warm and sunny or it's pouring rain.  And I do mean POURING.  We are at flood stages in all the rivers in the mid-state area.  Our yard is so soggy that Blossom walking across it causes a squelching sound.  On the other hand when the floods abate a bit, the heart shaped puddle shows up.  Remember that?

In My Home This Week: Holiday Week

In my home this week, I:

...plan meals

Steak, German Potatoes, Broccoli, Wedge Salads
John was given two extra steaks the other night at the work party.  I'll reheat them but all else was on hand.

On my own

Chili, Cornbread, Orange and Onion Salad

Pot Roast with Vegetables,  Tossed Salad

Chicken Stir Fry, Brown Rice, Oranges

to a friend's home for dinner

Brisket, Corn on the Cob, Coleslaw, Carrot Cake

This Week In My Home: Working to Save

Making do, so I can wear it out...John's repair of the rocker makes it serviceable once again and I'm not at all displeased about that.  We bought a two piece package of chair brackets which cost us a grand total of $2.73.  These rockers (sold at Cracker Barrel) are $160...The math works very well for me!

Saturday:  Our family holiday didn't work out.  Katie's moving this coming week into her very first home of her own.  Overwhelm set in with packing, baby and holidays all crowding in upon her.  With less people here, there was less food needed, so some things went back into pantry/freezer to be used at a later date.

I ran a full load of dishes before going to bed.

John did a late last load of laundry.  He hung many things to dry but did put our company's things in the dryer so they could get them packed up.

Sunday:  We saw our guests off and then, since we were up earlier than usual, we tackled household chores.  This meant we had the whole afternoon free when we returned from church.

Retirement Remedies: Fourth Quarter Report

Despite worries and hefty expenses, this year is actually ending on a better note than it appeared we could possibly hope.  I'm so happy to report that and I feel optimistic about the coming year.

In October, I discovered my lab costs were not being paid by the insurance company.  It seems they were not a preferred provider.  I was shocked.  Six months of labs every other week and sometimes weekly had really added up to a hefty cost.  I'd have loved to have known this information early on, but apparently even the hospital was unaware of it.  I reluctantly changed to the preferred provider and the insurance is now paying all but pennies of each bill.  I haven't yet received billing from the hospital but I did tell you all in late September that bills trickle in.  I'll stand in trust that when the billing arrives we'll be able to pay it.

I'm currently paying down an inpatient bill in increments but each month we've just managed to have a nice sized enough payment to satisfy the billing service and we've not dipped into savings nor increased our loan in order to pay any bills.  I have a small medical bill fund that I add to each month and it's always just enough.

Christmas Decorating 2015

Several years back, John insisted we should put up our Christmas tree on Thanksgiving evening.  Prior to that the tree never went up before December 15 and took a week to put together, string lights and decorate and it came down December 26 and that was the end of that.  Now we put it up Thanksgiving evening and take it down by December 31.  We've really stretched out the enjoyment of the tree in our home and I for one appreciate it a great deal.

All this year I've actually planned how I would like for the house to look in the holidays.  I've been happy with my farmhouse look overall and more and more I'm pulling in vintage elements and rustic pieces.  That's exactly the sort of things I've pinned to my Holiday in the Country and Holiday Table boards, too.

Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, I went out to the shed to fetch my Christmas bins.  I gave a good look around while I was out there and suddenly I had this vision of what my Christmas decor would be this year.  It has nothing to do with vintage.  It has nothing to do with rustic.  It doesn't have anything to do with the green/white/brown colors I'd thought I might use at first, nor the silver and white with emerald I'd been thinking I'd really like to try.  And if we start with the back door where everyone comes in, you'll see the wreath I made on Thanksgiving Day.  It hasn't got a thing to do with what's going on inside of the house either.  Nope.

Coffee Chat: Pre Christmas Lull

Come in and let's sit down with a cup of coffee and a homemade cookie...What will you like best?  I've got Magic Cookie Bars which I made with a bit of a twist this time...Stove top cookies and Sugar cookies as well.  I confess the Sugar Cookies are my absolute favorites.  It's the best recipe for Sugar cookies I've had to date.  The Magic Cookie Bars were made using graham crackers but I didn't quite have enough.  So I crumbled Matzoh crackers and added those to the graham crumbs.  I was a bit nervous about that sleight of hand in using what I had.  These cookies are one of Sam's favorites so I told him right off what I'd done.  He said, "Ooh!  I'll bet that will be good!" And it was.  The slight bit of saltiness, the decreased sweetness of the crust, makes a nice balance with the rich topping.  I'll have to buy Matzoh crackers again next year to make these cookies.

Well the family week/weekend came and went.  I didn't get to see Katie and her family after all and I won't even lie that I wasn't a whole lot disappointed, but I did understand her need to decrease stress in her life...You see she's moving into her first house of her own this week and packing and moving and baby equals a stressful time.  Dear Bess did it during June all on her own with our almost 1 year old grandson, as Katie was busy recovering from surgery and tending to her baby and I was in the hospital and Sam was already working in Florida.  I was, I admit it, rather proud of Katie for being woman enough to see that she had to prioritize.  I'll also own that while I was deeply disappointed my pride nearly busted that all to pieces anyway.  It took me forever (as in until June of this year when I had that little life changing experience!) to learn to say NO and mean it and to omit those people who created the most stress in my life from having too much space in my life.

I have always been a people pleaser of the worst sort, the sort that just went off the deep end and fell apart while trying to spin every single plate I was handed.  And I am the sort who is always left standing about wondering just why, when I've tried so hard to please, no one ends up feeling the least bit pleased with me and I am even less than pleased with how things turn out myself.  No, I'd much rather Katie admitted to overwhelm and prioritize her life needs rather than try and please me and end up being miserably aware of all she might be doing were it not for a four hour road trip and a two hour family visit.

In My Home This Week

In the Blue House this week I...

Have been wishing the weather was more seasonable...  Temperatures have been closer to the 80's than the 50's you'd expect this time of year and the grass is green as summer grass very nearly.  I can plainly see buds on several trees.  I find all this very worrying, as the last time we had out of season buds on a tree in the yard we had a hard cold spell and the tree died.  I'm not keen to lose these big shade giving trees at all.  Still...what can I do?  The weather is very much out of my control!
I confess I was much amused by my Florida family's response to the weather.  Seems compared to their daily temperatures it was cold!  Well all righty then!  At least one set of us was happy with the weather and their much amused dad and I kept quiet and let them enjoy the cooler weather they'd so looked forward to finding, even if we felt it worthwhile to turn on AC in the mid-afternoon hours.

Happily this week it returns to the normal temperatures for this time of year.  I suspect the propane company will be more than relieved.  Usually they've been by to touch up our tank at least once at this time.  I'm sure they need the business...and we can't forget my number one concern for cold days and nights: PEACHES!

Plan meals...

This Week In My Home, I Saved Money...

Sometimes the sweetest decorations come from what was meant to be tossed.  In organizing the Christmas things I found my little bottle brush trees and as I worked in the living room I suddenly thought of putting one of the trees here with the little reading girl and kitties.  I picked up the curly ribbon and the gold present up from the floor in the guest room meaning to toss them in the trash,  Instead, they became part of this little vignette which suddenly became a  holiday decoration.  

Saturday:  John and I enjoyed our spaghetti dinner today.  I had only to add a bit of lettuce to leftover salad from Thursday, make a piece of garlic toast and boil the pasta.  No big deal for making quite a good dinner.

Noted the '1 pound' sized box of whole wheat pasta contains 13.5 ounces....No savings in that for me now is there?  Just another example of paying attention a bit too late to the incredible shrinking packaging of items...Make sure I'll be on my toes next purchase and be sure I buy the pound package no matter what brand it is.

I put away leftovers.  There was enough pasta and sauce to make dinner for tomorrow following church (easy to heat in the microwave) and enough extra to make up a spaghetti pie for a meal at a much later date.  I topped the pie with waxed paper then reused the same sheet of foil I'd lined my garlic bread pan with to cover all.  I slipped it into a zippered freezer bag, made sure to label and date it.  Nice to know we've a ready meal for one of those days when projects or crisis creates the need of an easy meal.

I mixed up pudding for dessert cups.  I poured the remaining into pre-measured serving portions.

When we determined that leftovers for after church tomorrow was the order of the day, I broke up that package of marked down cubed steaks I'd bought yesterday and planned for Sunday's dinner into two packages.  I hadn't much paid attention to price yesterday but I saved $2.18 over the original price. There were four large pieces of cubed steak and a smaller steak which will do fine for a 'second' piece for the man of the house.  I packaged the meat in 2 previously used (well washed) zippered bags.  These I will throw away after use. I try to never package meat in new zippered bags but well used ones.

I washed a full load of dishes following dinner.

Our favorite Saturday afternoon snack just lately is home made popped corn.  It is so easy, takes barely any more time than microwave popcorn and tastes awesome.  I can make just enough for the two of us or make a big pot full.

This Week In My Home

This week in my home...

I continue with the Freezer challenge:  

Did you ever decide mid-way through something that really you just don't care for it overall?  I've decided I'm that way about frozen green beans.  They just lose something in the fresh/frozen/cooked stages that can't be recovered.  So when I use up this lot of green beans I'm going to stick to having them fresh or canned but never frozen again.  Just my personal taste on this one.  John could care less.  Turns out green beans were never a favored vegetable for him at all.

I did make a tiny bit of room in the biggest freezer, but I've yet to clear them out and defrost.  That is going on my list even though I think it's a pipe dream this week.

I Plan Meals:  Spaghetti with Meat Sauce, Green Salad, Garlic Bread, Lemon Pudding

Spaghetti Leftovers
I planned another meal but we had so many leftovers John asked for a repeat meal today, too. We had this after church and it took me about five minutes to heat in the microwave while I made a quick salad.  Easy peasy.

Tuna Pasta Salad, Crackers, Mandarin Oranges
I wouldn't normally serve this in cooler months but John asked for it especially.  I'd planned to make tuna salad sandwiches or even a tuna casserole, but he wants this and seldom makes a request so I will indulge him.  I just need to get my grocery shopping done so I can have plenty of fresh colorful vegetables to put into it.  And olives.  Black and green ones.  Requested.

Savings Season In My Home

 I refashioned a wreath I've had a number of years and added a bit of ribbon from my ribbon drawer.  The ribbon and the wreath were bought on clearance in years past.

Friday:  I woke extra early this morning.  I got up and started my Thanksgiving meal.

I learned my lesson about not labeling things I've put in the freezer.  The second quart jar of broth proved to be from a corned beef and not chicken broth as I'd thought.  Fortunately I was able to boil the turkey neck and make a bit more, just enough to make gravy.

I put away leftovers immediately following dinner.  Enough for meals for tomorrow went into the fridge.  The rest of the meat was stripped from the carcass and packed up as sandwich/casserole meat.  and soup making pieces.

I planned to make extra stuffing yesterday and then changed my mind.  I am glad I did.  I put three pans of dressing up today.  One for the fridge, two into the freezer.

Started decorating for Christmas last night really, but decorated the mantel today.  Wanting an autumn/Thanksgiving look on the dining table for our meal kept me from decorating the dining room side of the room.

I re-used some pretty Christmas cards I had saved over the years to freshen up the shadow box and the little frames on the end of the collage wall (formerly framed individual leaves, formerly Indian arrowheads).

The morning was much warmer than we've had lately.  I opened windows early in the day which kept the house from getting too hot during the afternoon.

I cooked the giblets planning to make giblet gravy only to discover that John dislikes giblet gravy.  No matter, the pups and cat will enjoy the giblets and the leftover gravy as well.

Clipped the ends of the flowers I purchased three weeks ago. One thing I love about cool weather and keeping my home cooler than the average?  Flowers last very well indeed.  I kept looking at one of the items I'd put out to decorate with for Christmas against the red/bold of the mums in the old floral arrangement and decided it would make a nice combination for now.  And it did.  I split the arrangement between the kitchen window sill vase of rooting coleus and mums and the pretty container from the living room decor.

Questions, Answers and Comments, Oh My: Nov 2015

Well here we are with one more month tucked in and put to bed for the year and just the busiest month of the year ahead of us to get through.  What a year it has been...  There will be little time for thinking deep thoughts this month, little time really to think at all.  I'm glad I did all my deep thinking at the very beginning of November.

Let's get started, shall we?

This Week In My Home where in I plan menus started out the month with a planning the year ahead session, mentioned in the first paragraph above.  Well I planned out next year and got a lot of good thinking done along the way and even cleared up some last loose ends that I'd let trail along behind (but not the front porch which is apparently destined to remain my loosest loose end this least it's painted).  I laughed when I read the first comment on this first post from Sew Blessed Maw where Judy mentions getting her house holiday ready and then planning meals.  I somehow completely forgot that particular step!  And so I had a panicked post a bit later in the month.  Foolish me.  I think I'm going to sit down with my notebook and calendar pages and lay out my holidays/birthdays/special Holy Days etc upon the pages so I won't be caught so terribly unawares this year.  I felt like I scrambled hard to catch up for all these things this year.

Book Review: The Mexican Slow Cooker by Deborah Scneider

I promised myself I'd buy no more cookbooks, but when I saw this one offered up, I couldn't resist.  It combines two of my favorites: Mexican recipes and slow cooker recipes.  It seemed like an immediate win on both counts.

I've had the book now for several days and have read through it.  Here's what I like about the book: there is a basic explanation of the various chilies and how they are best used.  This is information I didn't know.  The author also explains why she prefers the ceramic insert crock pot and the basic cooking techniques she uses to prepare food for the crock pot.  What I find unrealistic is her expectation that we have a kitchen equipped with multiple sized crock pots and sundry piece of equipment.  I tend to run a pretty basic kitchen overall and my appliances include the crock pot and a blender.  I don't even own an electric can opener!

There are photos for about 1/3 of the recipes.  The recipes are clearly written and every single ingredient is listed in the ingredients list as it should be.  There are no surprise ingredients buried in the instructions.  I like that!  Not all authors do this and it can lead to a bit of frustration.

There are recipes for soups, main dishes, street dishes, sides, and desserts in this book, all of which are made in the slow cooker.  I think I'm most fascinated by the idea of making Tamales in the crock pot!

There are insets that explain how to make tortillas, how to use various chilies, what constitutes Moles, etc.  These are all very helpful.

What I don't like:  Some of the recipes are labor intensive prior to the slow cooking stage. I would have liked to have had a list of possible Hispanic grocery items I might use to cut down on some of the labor.  After all, I don't work in a restaurant!  Could I used canned roasted chilies in place of fresh, just roasted myself chilies?  

In My Home This Week: All Routine